It’s an easy thing lately to find myself looking back into my family of origin as far as I can remember. Today, I chose good things. We got through the hard things, sometimes with next to nothing, and sometimes barely at all, but we made it and I think that stands for something. The good things mean even more because of that.
I drove to my mother’s home, today, and wondered if the little bakery in her town was still there. The one that sold the tea cookies. It was where I had remembered it. I walked in and there they were, the little round tables, with the chairs with the little round seats, and the back of the chairs woven into a heart in the center. The case at the back of the store was filled with baked goods. I stood there for a moment looking around, taking it all in. And I could nearly see in front of me: a memory of mommy leading me through the door by my small hand when I was a child, right to the little chair with a heart woven into the back of it. She had let go of my hand and walked to the counter to order a Danish with a coffee, and some tea cookies. We then sat at a little round table. She with her Danish and coffee and I with my tea cookies. It all felt so special and important. The dollop of brightly colored icing in top of those cookies.
Today, I stood in the entry way of that bakery and just absorbed that memory again. I went to the counter. My mother needs to gain weight now. She is 87 and recovering, her will and wit as strong as ever. Her body is deciding. Sometimes remembrance is letting go yet wanting to hold on forever. These little things we do when the days get softer, they somehow carry time with them. The carry the knowledge of why it was good, and how happy we felt, and the hope of more. Remembrance carries all kinds of memories and emotions, all at once.
The store was not the same after all this time, but they kept a few familiar things, like the design of the chairs and tables. The bakery case was still in the back of the store. And friendliness, they kept that. In front of me was a woman, young and beautiful, and she was ordering tea cookies. The ones with the sprinkles on top. The line moved and I was now beside her. She greeted me with a smile and I noticed her round belly. I wondered if a day not too far from today, she might bring her child to sit with her, at these little tables.
The woman behind the counter was friendly, and helping a young man who told us that today was his first day on the job. He was weighing orders and placing them into boxes. I wanted to say something about a long time ago, about mommy bringing me here, and how it felt to come through that door so many years later. How mommy and I used to sit at a little table when my feet couldn’t touch the ground, how mommy looked sitting across from me. She held a steaming cup up coffee in a white mug the color of milk, and there was a Danish on a white plate. I remember her brown hair braided and wound neatly into a bun. I wanted to say how good it was to be here now, and remember all of that. And how happy it was to come here, and see tea cookies in the bakery case. And smiling faces and welcoming conversation. I wondered if bakers realize the smiles that they bring to others. The stress they sometimes calm, the spirits they lift, or the memories they recall to others.
I awkwardly said, “My mother used to bring me here and I know that was forever ago.” The pregnant woman smiled at me. The lady behind the counter said that she had photos of the bakery from years ago, would I like to see them? I said that would be great and then we both realized the line of customers forming behind me. I said, “Maybe another time, you look so busy and there are only two of you, today.” But the thought was nice all the same.
I drove to my mother’s home with tea cookies in a chocolate colored box. The birds were chatting in the trees and the daffodils bloomed, in spite of an early morning snow that was melting now. I walked through the living room where oil paintings hung on the walls. These were the works of art that she had painted during winter, almost twenty new works in all. As she would say, she was doing the things that she could do, and isn’t that why we are all here? To do the things that we can do in this world? Her lyrical Appalachian voice and her matter of fact manner spoke that right into my mind as I walked through the hall towards her room. A dab of yellow ochre touched almost every painting. I find myself adopting her colors and loving them like she does. Did I ever think that would happen? We all become pieces of those we love, mixed in with our own journeys.
I found her in her room sitting in her recliner, lookin well today, all things considered. Her mind and wit as sharp as ever, wearing a pale pink cable sweater that spoke hopes of spring. This cool April that has been harsher to the earth to her, more than usual. I gave her the box of tea cookies. We sat together and spoke of remembrances.